NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Belarus is becoming “more and more dependent” on Russia following the nation's isolation by the West in the wake of its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Stoltenberg made the comments in an interview with Welt am Sonntag that was published on June 6 a week before the annual NATO summit in the United Kingdom.
Russia and Belarus will be a key topic at the meeting, which will follow a three-day meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations to be held June 11-13.
Western nations imposed more sanctions on Belarus after Minsk diverted a plane traveling from Greece to Lithuania under the false pretext of a bomb threat in order to arrest a journalist critical of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Stoltenberg told the paper that NATO is “following what is happening in Belarus very closely” and expressed concern over deeper ties between Minsk and Moscow.
Lukashenka visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi days after the plane incident and received the backing of the Kremlin leader in his confrontation with the West.
He said Russia agreed to give Belarus a $500 million loan.
Stoltenberg said the alliance is ready “to protect and defend any ally against any kind of threat coming from Minsk and Moscow."
He also said NATO’s partnership agreement with Belarus had been significantly scaled back since Lukashenka unleashed his police force on protesters following the August 9 presidential election they claim was rigged in the strongman’s favor.
Separately, Stoltenberg said NATO is “sticking with” its two-pronged approach toward the Kremlin of deterrence and dialogue on issues of mutual concern such as arms control.
"If we don't talk to each other, we can neither settle our disputes nor improve mutual understanding."